Japan to send minister to Solomons over China security pact fears

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Japan will send a vice foreign minister to the Solomon Islands possibly later this month due to concerns that a security pact between the southwest Pacific nation and China will increase Beijing’s military influence in the region, government sources said Thursday.

The visit by Shingo Miyake, a parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, comes as China and the Solomon Islands said earlier this week that they had signed a deal that will reportedly allow the deployment of Chinese forces and the docking of their ships in the islands.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has also begun making arrangements to visit Palau, a Pacific island country that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan, in early May, the sources said.

Working in partnership with the United States and Australia, the Japanese government is hoping to boost ties with the Solomon Islands and cooperate with the country in maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

It marks the first time for a Japanese government official to visit the Solomon Islands since August 2019, when then Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Norikazu Suzuki did so.

According to the sources, Miyake is scheduled to meet with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele in the country’s capital of Honiara. A meeting with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is also being arranged.

The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 2019. The United States and its allies are stepping up efforts to push back against China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, as Beijing puts pressure on Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island which it regards as its territory.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying that the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand shared concerns over the China-Solomon Islands security partnership.

Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said at a press conference on Thursday that Tokyo recognises that the pact “could impact the security of the entire Pacific region” and that it will be monitoring developments with concern.

He said Japan is trying to confirm the details of the new treaty.

In Palau, Hayashi is scheduled to meet with President Surangel Whipps and reaffirm close cooperation with a focus on China, according to the sources.

The foreign minister is also set to visit Fiji, the current chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional body comprising of 18 member states.

SOURCE: KYODO/THE MAINICHI/PACNEWS